Climate Change and Migration

Submitted by Sukaina Bharwani | published 25th Mar 2011 | last updated 5th Jan 2023

There is a growing recognition that environmental degradation and climate change hold the
potential to result in significant population displacement, which the world is presently ill-
equipped to prevent or respond to in an effective manner. Africa will be at the forefront of many
of these concerns.

Both gradual processes and extreme environmental events can cause migration. Yet current policy
responses tend to focus on how to deal with the impacts of sudden natural disasters rather than
with the consequences of longer-term environmental degradation. While migration is a coping
mechanism and survival strategy for those who move, increased migration may itself contribute
to further environmental degradation and socio-economic stress.

This practical but highly complex and chronic issue has been largely ignored (it is not covered in
any detail by the IPCC AR4). The complexity of this topic and the difficulty to predict the
magnitude of environmentally induced migration have in some respects worked against building
awareness and momentum for practical action. However, all evidence points towards climate and
environmentally induced migration becoming one of the major policy challenges of this century.
Adequately planning for and managing environmentally induced migration will be critical for
human security.

Numerous types of disaster risk reduction have been adopted in response to natural hazards but
their scope is often short term. Even though such systems offer people safety, they do not help to
protect them from the middle to long term threats to food security and health, economic decline,
inundation of coastal areas, and degradation of land and fresh water resources and even conflict
associated with natural disasters. The interplay of environmental and socio-economic stresses has
often induced migration as an adaptation strategy.

Projects we are involved in to address the research gaps


Downing, T. and Sokona, Y. 2008: Climate Change Adaptation in Africa: Scoping paper for the 12th African Ministerial Conference on the Environment
UNEP and Institute of Migration. (2008) Climate change,
environmental degradation and migration: The UNEP and IOM perspective. Geneva: UNEP and IOM
(manuscript by Andrew Morton, Philippe Boncour, Frank Laczko, Jobst Koehler and Alina Narusova)